Playwright

Michelle Tyrene Johnson (far right), playwright and author, reads a character from a new play “Buried Roots” with Hewleek McKoy (right), senior theater major, Amy Sage Webb (left), professor of English, modern languages and journalism, and Alec Walberg (far left), junior communication major last Thursday in the Kanza Room. Johnson made a promise to students to finish the play by Dec. 5. 

Michelle Tyrene Johnson, playwright and author, came to Emporia State as a part of the visiting writer’s series and debuted an in progress play.

“When you’re in theater, the more you work on plays, the more you think of it as more than just writing,” said Johnson. “You’ve done different roles as a playwright. I’ve been a stage manager (and) a director. I mostly write though.”

Johnson has been writing plays for seven years and her latest play is “The Green Book Wine Club Train Trip,” which won the New Works Playwright Competition. Johnson shared her process for writing her latest play during the series.

“I took myself on vacation by myself to London and Paris to make myself write,” Johnson said. “I wrote every day and I even went to one of the cafes where James Baldwin used to write.”

She also spoke about how writing in different places is different. “Everything I’m doing sort of invades and inhabits what I write, even literally,” Johnson said. “How I write when I’m sitting in a Starbucks (or) the Starbucks on Main in Kansas City, sort of impacts how I write.”

Johnson interacted with the crowd and with the actors who helped read her play throughout the hour. “She was very warm and very personable with the crowd, which I enjoyed,” said Jordan Baker, sophomore English major.

“I went to the first visiting writer. He was a professional and he’d been writing for years. He was like a rock star, but she interacted with us, asked questions and asked our opinions to see how we’d react to it.”

The play she debuted is about Theo, a black college student and Jamie, his first nonwhite female college professor, and their relationship as well as some struggles in both of their personal lives.

“I was really surprised that she was showing of her new, unfinished play but I was pleasantly surprised,” said Paula Minten, sophomore psychology major. “It intrigued me. For the entire time I was thinking what’s happening and it really dropped the bomb on me.”

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